Old 09-27-2013, 07:08 PM   #1
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Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Cleveland, Ohio
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Wrote this in about 1991 -- under my real name, Terri Librande. It is gen, it's PG for I think some language. Enjoy...
The young intern walked up the steps of Bethesda Medical Center. The

air was crisp and fresh around him as he entered the hospital, anticipating

another twelve hours of hard work. As he checked in, he noted the date

and mentally counted the days until he could be out of this grind and onto

whatever his life ahead offered him. Medicine was only a small part of his

plans. Only nineteen years old and he was always at the top of his class in

school. He'd played piano at Carnegie Hall a few months before, and M.I.T.

was behind him, for now. His father, who had died recently, had wanted

him to have the medical degree. He'd always been so supportive of

anything his younger son did, especially after his brother's death in Viet

Nam. It seemed that part of his family's spirit had died with Tom, but now

wasn't the time to think about it. His work day was ahead of him.

Things were different working in a Navy hospital like Bethesda. Many

of the larger, more prestigious institutions in the country had requested

his presence for internship, but he chose the Naval institute, working as a

civilian. His intelligence disqualified him from military service, the

draft board deciding his mental abilities made him invaluable at home.

He wasn't going for only a medical degree, but taking extension courses

to mop up a degree or two in ancient languages, hoping for a doctorate

someday. A busy man, too busy for his mother's taste, she said. He still

managed a weekly letter home and called frequently.

Mom was on her way to Hawaii, after he'd closed the sale of the farm.

That had been so hard, letting that part of his life go. The farm had

represented the time before the achievement tests, before he was

'different'. Before his father and Tom had died. He still felt a pang,

remembering the auction only a month ago, seeing all the memories go

under the block and sold to neighbors and strangers. His mother's face,

seeing the accumulated belongings of nearly forty years disappear.

The assignment chart was up in the break room and he mentally

checked it, easily memorizing names and rooms, problems and treatment.

The room was filling with other interns and doctors, all on his shift, plus

the ones from the shift before his.

He took his seat at the long table as the other doctors gathered for

the daily briefing. He listened patiently to the status reports, comments

about newly received patients, and general hospital information. The coffee he

sipped during the meeting seemed to revive dead brain cells. Unlike his

contemporaries, he wasn't dating anyone, or out drinking. Books and

homework were his best company. it was fortunate that the most recent

grant paid for an apartment of his own. It would be a hindrance with a

roommate coming in and out, girls, drinking. He was responsible for the

well-being of his mother, and had no time for things like that. When he

was settled, his experiments successful, then it would be time for his own

family -a wife and some kids. That was part of his dream, too.

The meeting was breaking up, and Dr. Wolfe, head of interns, was

motioning him to his side. With an easy smile, he joined his favorite

teacher in this live action classroom.

"As you know," Dr. Wolfe said, as they left the room and headed down

the corridor. "We've had a few additions. I have rounds and there's

simply more than I can handle. We have a physical to conduct in Room

Two and I'd be entirely in your debt if you'd handle it."

"No problem, Doctor.'

"How many more months?"

"Eleven," the intern answered, trying to keep the joy from creeping into

his voice. Eleven more months until he could return to M.I.T. and finish

what he really wanted to do as his life's work. Physics. The medical

degree would come in handy if he actually managed to make a particular

dream come true. As he hurried to the waiting patient, his mind was on

numbers and theories. Soon.

As he pushed open the door to Room Two, he frowned at the smoke

and smell that greeted him. Cigars, and any form of tobacco was

prohibited on this floor. The man seated on the examining table was

puffing on a cigar and looked like he was enjoying it.

"I hope you realize that smoking isn't allowed." He picked up the

man's chart and glanced over it.


The word was full of belligerence and even challenge. Sighing, the

intern picked up the ready stethoscope and walked over to the table. The

man, cigar still wedged between gritted teeth, was far too underweight,

and his face was deathly pale. The words on his chart fell into place with

his condition. The man was a recently repatriated POW, named Albert


"All right, all right!" Pulling the cigar from his mouth, Calavicci

tossed it perfectly into the empty metal waste can. "Carry on, Lieutenant."

"I'm no officer." Pressing the scope to the thin chest, he was reassured

that the man's heart was, indeed, still beating. "I'm a civilian," he said,

pocketing the scope. "Last year medical student."

"Christ, I've had so many interns check me over I want to puke." Al's

face settled into one dark look. "I guess I don't rate a real doctor."

"Not quite true," The intern smiled. "It says on your chart you're

going to work for NASA."

"Missed the Moon shots by one lousy year." There was no animosity in

his tone now, just a little regret. "I don't want to lose out on anything

else. Just get this over with and let me out of here."

With skilled fingers, he probed the man's ribs and stomach, checking

throat and eyes, all the things that necessitated the examination. Finished,

he leaned against the wall across from Calavicci. "You can get dressed."

"What's the verdict?" Al asked, pulling on his pants.

"I'd say you should put about forty more pounds on, get plenty of

rest, and stay away from cigars."

"Nag, nag, nag." Al made a face as he buttoned his shirt. "I've been

eating like a pig, sleeping twelve hours at a time, and screw you as far as

my cigars go."

"That's pretty rough." Turning away from his patient, it suddenly

struck him that Tom could've been captured, like this man had, and come

home a different person. Maybe Calavicci used to be a half nice guy and

the war turned him into this.

"Hey, I know what you're thinking - you're wrong, Bucko." How old

was this kid, anyway? Not old enough to be a last year intern, it seemed,

that was for sure. "I'm not what you see here, once you get to know me.

See, I'm a little irritable today because the Navy's been giving me the

runaround about my wife. When I was released from the hospital in San

Diego I took off for home faster than you could spit. We had this bungalow

- she loved it. Anyway, the house was empty, and the For Sale sign said

Sold. Got it? Good. So, every time I ask the Navy for the forwarding

information she had to give, they say something has broken down, or the

current copy isn't available, whatever the hell that is supposed to mean. I

came all the way to D.C., even if I'm supposed to be in Texas, and they say

another exam. No info on Beth - that's my wife. She could be in a coma

or something, or in a car accident - they aren't saying. So knock off

sympathetic looks, because no doctor worth their salt in abrasiveness

worries about anyone but their accountant. Take it from your pal, Al."

The intern had to laugh at the quick patter. There was no touch of pain

in the man's voice, or anxiety, just extreme irritability and annoyance.

"You look like someone with sense." Al pulled out and lit another cigar,

shrugging apologetically. "Sorry, but I'm making up for five years, okay?

As I was saying, you look to me like a guy with brains. Get out of this

outfit and maybe take up knitting or something."

"Try quantum physics." The words were blurted, as if desperate to get

them out. He was so tired of being seen as only a doctor, another faceless

physician when there was so much more he could do. He didn't usually

speak of his other work to other doctors, or, especially, patients. They

wouldn't understand. "Now, you know, that's funny." Al was looking at

the intern in a totally different light. "See, that's one of my moonlighting

ventures. When I wasn't piloting planes. courtesy of the U.S. Navy, I was

going to M.I.T. for a physics degree. Quantum physics. It's like this -

flying is my pie, physics my ice cream. Always liked numbers, math, that

sort of stuff. That's one of the reasons NASA asked for me, just three

days after I was repatriated. That, and my natural charisma."

"I . . . I'm going to M.I.T. and finish school there as soon as I get

my medical degree."

"Ain't that a kick in the butt." New admiration filled Al's eyes.

"So why bother getting a medical degree, and the extra grief?"

Turning quickly, he pretended to be very interested in his patient's

chart, avoiding the curious gaze. "Uh, personal reasons," he said, too


Al heard the catch in the intern's voice, and decided not to press. There

was something really special about this kid, he thought, heading for the

door. Hesitating, hand on the knob, he turned. "Look, I'm going to be here

a couple of nights. Paperwork, all that Naval stuff. When are you off


"Late." Grinning, he set the chart aside.

"Hey, I'm an experienced night owl, and bar crawler."

"I . . . don't drink."

Al's gaze widened in amazement. "Let me get this straight - a

medical student that doesn't drink?"

"Uh, I study a lot." This conversation was getting uncomfortable. All

friendships ended the same, it seemed. They found out he was this

strange, alien genius, and they'd leave. Or treat him 'funny'.

"Listen, most of these guys around here wouldn't know physics if it bit

them on the ***. I just bet you're starving for someone to explain your

theories to." He leaned forward, almost nose to nose with the kid. "You

have theories, all good physicists do."

"Actually, I'd like to take you up on that, and I have tomorrow off.

My shift ends at midnight, though."

"Fine. I'll meet you outside the main entrance." Turning back to the

door, Al stopped, knowing he'd forgotten something. He looked back at the

intern as he opened the door. "I don't know your name."

"It's Beckett," he answered. "Sam Beckett."

After waiting thirty minutes outside Bethesda, Sam was beginning to

wonder if this Al guy would show up. He was on the verge of catching the

bus, when he heard a screech of abused tires, and a shout.

"Thought I forgot you?" The was as bright red as was allowed,

screaming, insane scarlet. "The first thing I got when I came back from

'Nam," Al shouted over the roar of the engine, answering the wide eyed

look Sam was giving him. "A '72 Firebird. State of the art, all the

goodies. You ready to go, or fall asleep on your feet?"

Slipping into the passenger seat of the car, Sam had no idea what he

was in for. They tore out of the parking lot at lightning speed, ran two

red lights, and honked at some departing nurses, before the younger man

could catch his breath.

"God, I love Navy nurses." The radio was blaring "Smoke on the Water"

and Al's volume was competing. "My wife, Beth, she's a nurse. The best.

You married?"

"Uh, no." Sam quickly reached down and turned the music to a more

moderate level. "I hate to shout," he explained, a Cheshire cat smile

crossing his face.

"Kid your age, you should be married. Take me for instance. I wasn't

even twenty-five when I met Beth. We were at this dance, and she wore a

white dress. Just stunning. Couldn't take my eyes off of her for a

second. We got married two months later."

Sam glanced over and noticed that Al's face had lost it's happy go lucky

look, and even his foot was easing off the accelerator. "The Navy will find

her, Al."

"Aw, I know." Breaking from his reverie, Al pressed on the gas and let

the car tear down the nearly empty streets. "They haven't let me down

yet. Not yet."

Sam vetoed Al's suggestion to go to a bar, explaining finances, and

not wanting Al to treat him as threatened. They ended up at Sam's modest

apartment in D.C.

Al glanced around the rooms as they entered. The walls were empty,

save one photo of what looked to be the kid's family. It was a holiday

shot - Christmas or Thanksgiving. Grinning Dad on one side of Sam, big

brother on the other, Mom and sis in pretty dresses looking annoyed at the

three men. A nice family.

"Uh, that's an old shot." Sam glanced at the photo for a second and

hurried into the kitchenette. "I don't have much in the way of food -

what about ordering a pizza or something?"

"Extra pepperoni - and I'll make the call." Al wanted to ask about the

picture - there was something about the look in the kid's eyes when he

caught him looking at it. That could wait. "I know the best joint, not far

from here. They deliver all night, for those goof-offs at the Pentagon." He

dialed the number by memory and made the order. Hanging up the phone,

he slumped onto a convenient rocking chair and put his feet up on the


Sam came out of the kitchen carrying two frosty, open bottles of Coke

and offered one to Al. "Making yourself comfortable?"

"Nice and cozy." Al practically purred. The chair he was sitting in was

overstuffed and like heaven to sit in and the room itself radiated warmth.

He felt right at home.

"My Mom . . . she wanted me to have some furniture from . . " Sam's

head dipped, hiding his eyes.

"Now that's the second time you've done that." Al's voice was kind,

and concerned. "Everything okay, kid?"

"Yeah. Just fine." Al was much more perceptive than he let on at first.

Under that rough front was a closet mensch, as his Jewish landlady would


"Something's wrong or you wouldn't be wearing that . . . sick puppy


"I lost my dad about ten months ago. I missed Thanksgiving, because

of school, and . . . he died the day after." Something in Al's face made him

want to talk it out, bring it into the open. "Mom refused to let me maintain

the farm, even though it's been in the family six generations. She wanted

me to have a life, go to school. Follow my dreams, even though she doesn't

understand some of them. My sister, Kate, and her husband, Jim, moved

her to their home in Hawaii after the farm was sold. I got the furniture

you see here, which really makes this place pretty cozy, as you say."

"You have a brother? Why didn't he take over the farm?"

"Uh, he couldn't," Sam answered. "Uh, Tom, he was my older brother."

He bit the lower lip, the pain of his death still sweet and strong. It hurt.

"He died in Viet Nam four years ago, in April." His jaw clenched over the

pain that gripped his chest. It had come on so suddenly. Maybe it was the

look on Al's face - not quite sympathetic, but listening and drinking in

every word he said.

"What happened?"

"Well, they said he was shot on some secret mission. He was a Navy

Seal." Slumping into his desk chair, he faced the window, fingers gripping

the edge of the armrests. Tears suddenly came to his eyes, as he

remembered. "They sent him home in a box, and suggested that we not

open it. His face . .."

Al leaned forward, his feet dropping off the hassock and onto the

floor. "You opened it, didn't you?"

"I wanted to see him and my parents . . ." Sam bit back a sob, eyes

clenched tight against the wetness that spilled over and down his cheeks.

"Sam . . ."

His eyes opened. He was almost surprised to see Al at his arm,

crouched down, concern and shared emotion mirrored in his expressive


"Christ, kid, that took guts."

"I wanted to know it was him." He clenched his hands so tight in front

of him that he was afraid he'd break his fingers. "I heard that sometimes

. . . when they came home . . . they send the wrong person."

"Christ kid, you've never grieved for him, have you?"

Sam shook his head, his throat too tight to make words.

Al moved the chair Sam was in so he could see the younger man's face.

The friendly eyes were small and hard, mouth thin, jaw clenched against

the pain. "I bet you were everybody's Rock of Gibralter at the funeral,


Sam felt another rush of tears. "Katie, she cried," he said, his voice

choked and tear-filled. "Mom was fine until Dad fell apart. I didn't feel

anything, then. They were all leaning on me, wanting comfort. If I had

allowed myself to let go . . . " He shook his head. "I was going to

college, the oldest boy. I had responsibilities."

"How old are you, kid?"

"You keep calling me kid."

"That's because, compared to me, you are a kid. Answer my question."

"Nineteen." There was no sneer on Al's face, as there had been with

so many others. "I guess that explains why I lost control."

"Men cry, too." Al brushed Sam's shoulder with the back of his hand

as he got up. "Saw a lot of that in 'Nam."

The pain and tears were dissipating. "I guess you think I'm pretty

strange, inviting you up here, crying all over the carpet like this."

"It looks to me, pal, that you needed someone to talk to, and not

about Physics." Al pulled out a cigar and gestured 'do you mind?'

"Go ahead, but it's not good for you," Sam said, wiping what tears

were left with the back of his hand.

Al lit up, standing near the window so the smoke would go out. Taking

a couple of thoughtful puffs, he looked back at Sam. "It seems to me your

parents expected too much."

"No. It was my decision to make up for losing Tom like we did, so..."

"Bull." Al took another puff. "They wanted you to go to M.I.T. when you

were sixteen years old?"

"It was a scholarship. I graduated from high school then, and there

were a lot of offers. Indiana State offered me one to play basketball, but

Tom told me I was wasting myself."

"And he was right." He gestured with the cigar at the photo on the

wall. "I just remembered where I saw that."

"You remember the article in Time?"

"I should, I only read it last week."

"That was months ago, when I played Carnegie."

"I've got some catching up to do, news-wise. That picture was in the

article." Al waved over at the photo again. "They said that you were some

kind of genius, reading at age two, out-learning your music teacher,

playing chess with a computer at age ten. You were the smartest kid in

the world."

Sam shrugged, trying not to look uncomfortable.

"It's no fun being smart when you're sixteen. You probably wanted to

have fun, date girls, go to parties, but you also wanted to please Mom and

Dad, too, am I right?"

"I did all that stuff, Al. I had a girlfriend, Lisa. She's dating

No-Nose Pruitt now. I played basketball, goofed around with my friends,

got in trouble. My parents made sure my life was normal so I wouldn't be

treated different."

Al sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall under the window.

He gazed up at the face above him. It was evident that he was looking at a

dying race - and - a human being who thought more of others than

himself. "This medical degree thing. You did that for them, too?"

"It's necessary." Leaning forward in the chair, Sam tilted his head back.

"After Tom died, I went into medicine. Back home, being a doctor was like

the pinnacle of success. Maybe I did it to impress people, but I don't think

so. Dad wanted a doctor in the family, and it was so simple. I could get

the degree in three years instead of five, and still go back to M.I.T. for the

other degree. I'm taking extension courses, too, for other things. Dad

thought I was overextending myself, and, maybe I was. Suddenly, I didn't

have time to go home, or make a call. He had a heart attack, very sudden."

His voice softened, but he'd cried himself out. There was nothing left to

shed, just the empty feeling inside of him when he spoke of Dad. "He was

the best father, a good, honest, man. Something told me he'd know if I got

this degree and did some good for people with it. He always told me to use

my mind to help others, not myself, that I could make a fortune, or feel

good, and those were my two choices in life. I loved him."

"When did they find out you were a Super-Q?"

"Mrs. Greenburg, my piano teacher, sort of clued the school system in.

And my brother. See, Tom brought his homework home - he was five

years older than me, and I could do his math in my head. Suddenly he

went from 'C' to 'A' work in a matter of days. He was a pretty honest guy

and told the teacher what he'd done. They didn't believe him, seeing I

wasn't even in school yet. The next thing you know I was taking tests, and

in third grade, a year below Tom. Talk about humiliating for him, but he

never showed it. My parents were scared, worried about me, about what

kind of affect this could have in the long run. They consulted the family

doctor." Sam grinned. "It sounds strange, but we went to him for

everything - he was even our lawyer. Doc said to accelerate through

school, and get my degrees as quickly as possible, bang, bang, bang."

There was a knock at the door. "Pizza," Al growled, moving to his feet.

He glanced at the younger man. "Bang, eh? Be careful you don't overload

and explode." Sam made motions to go for his wallet, but Al shook his

head firmly. "This is my treat, kid."

The pizza was consumed with an appetite Sam Beckett hadn't felt in

months. "I don't usually talk much to people," he said, biting hungrily into

his fourth piece. "They usually want to talk about Time Magazine, and

what a genius I am."

"Don't talk with your mouth full. It gives me the pukies." Al made a

disgusted face. "Okay, we were talking about that. M.I.T., Indiana State,

Mom selling the farm. How did you end up in Maryland?"

"Tom was a Navy Seal. I could've interned anywhere, but I wanted to

intern at Bethesda because they wouldn't draft me. Also, it's close enough

to Cambridge that I could go up to talk to Professor LoNigro when I had

days off. He's one of the people who wants to work on my theory with me,

head of the physics department."

"You _tried_ to get drafted?" Al tossed down the half eaten mozzarella

that was hanging from his fingers. "Let me tell you something. they

would've eaten you alive over there. You were needed here, where you

could use that brain of yours to help people instead of kill them. When the

government finds out you have a mind, and intelligence, then you can

worry about working for them. Finish your pre-doctorship or whatever it's

called . . ."


"Thank you. And get out of D.C., Maryland, this whole damn place. If

you don't, they'll find a way to bury you in some damn think tank, or

where you'll go in and never come out. See, kid, you have compassion.

That's an emotion, for those of us in the know. When our friendly

neighborhood G-Men find out not only does _he_ have a brain, but he has a

heart, sure fire they'll find some way to break it."

"What happened to you, Al? Were you trying to please someone by

going to 'Nam?"

"Myself." The word came out sharp and no nonsense. "I played with

the idea of becoming a war hero to impress myself."

"And Beth?"

"She was ready to file for divorce when I put in for my second tour.

Then, right after I re-upped, I was captured by VC. Viet Cong, for the


"I've seen patients die from the after effects, Al."

"Yeah, well." His face darkened. "I don't want to talk about it. When I

get Beth back it will all be worth it. I'll turn in my commission and give

her the life we both needed. Kids, a dog, if she wants."

"I don't want to play devil's advocate, but what if . . .?" "No 'what

ifs'!" There was a bit of uncertainty slipping into the coldness of Al's

tone. "I know she's out there wondering why the Navy didn't call her

sooner. I wouldn't be surprised if she shows up here tomorrow." He lit another

cigar, trying to keep his voice level. There were other thoughts in his

head that he refused to say out loud, so that hope could live. "Maybe there's

something wrong with her physically, like a coma after a traffic accident.

You'll love her. She has this thing for rhythm and blues, flowers, just a

real lady."

"Did the Navy let you know today if they'd have word soon? You said

they might."

"Tomorrow." Al puffed nervously on the cigar, as if his body was

starved for the taste of it. "In the morning." He shrugged. "They're

probably flying her in from somewhere. You can meet her tomorrow

night, if you want to."

"Oh, I don't know." Sam turned his face away, a blush slowly creeping

up his cheeks. "I mean, you said you hadn't seen her for five years and..."

"Right," Al said quickly. "Maybe the night after."

The two men spent the rest of the night talking, not noticing the sun

crest the horizon until the room was lit by it. Physics, it seemed, could

bring the oddest combinations together. They managed to talk a little

about science, too.

"You want to travel in time?" Al almost swallowed his cigar.

"Well, yes." Sam shoved some papers across the desk to Al, covering up

the math problems they'd fooled around with earlier. "I call it the string


"Cute. You could market that."

"Seriously, Al. It's possible to travel in time."

Al could see the enthusiasm in the warm eyes, and the sincerity. Not

a bit of fooling around. "So explain this string theory to me - simply,

because I'm getting pretty worn out." He puffed on cigar number five

(since he'd arrived), raising his eyebrows. "I'm not as young as I look,


Sam grabbed the ever present piece of string. It was always there for

him to fool with when he was studying. Holding one end up, he explained,

"This is your birth." Left hand came up with the other end. "Your death."

He tied the ends to form a circle. "Loop the string and birth and death are

at either end with all the days of your life in the middle." Deftly, he

dropped the loop into his free hand, the string layering upon itself. "Ball

the string up and the days and years are jumbled together. Quantum

leaping. Leaping from place to place in your own life span."

"And you think this will work?"

"Well, eventually," Sam said, carefully placing the string in the drawer

and closing it. "With the proper funding, and I'm becoming an expert on

that, too."

"I bet, kid." He shook his head. "You also got some memory. The

numbers - I mean, you remember everything."

"My sister Kate says I have a swiss cheese brain. I get holes on things

I don't want to remember. Other than that, they say I have a photographic


"Why is it, every time you say something that should be considered a

compliment it sounds like you're embarrassed?"

"Because I am."

"Don't be, kid. Take my word, someday you will travel in time. Maybe

change a few things for the better. I can see it in those boy scout eyes of

yours." Al's stomach rumbled. The pizza had long been decimated, as well

as Beckett's supply of soft drinks. "What say I take you out to the best

breakfast of your life."

"You suggest the place and I pay this time," Sam said, eyes crinkling

at the corners as he smiled.

The two men commiserated pleasantly over a huge Denny's breakfast.

It seemed that they couldn't stop the conversation, not for a minute. One

response drew into a new subject, and they carried on from there. Each

were on their third cup of coffee when they realized that it was nearly

nine a.m. and that Al had obligations for the day.

Half-asleep, Sam thankfully accepted the ride home from Al. They had

made arrangements to meet the next evening and it seemed their

friendship was firmly cemented. With real regret, Sam watched as Al

pulled away, his Firebird practically tearing up pavement as he hurried

back to the base.

He shoved aside the thought of the day trip he'd planned to Cambridge.

Anyway, he grinned, opening the door to the complex, an evening with Al

Calavicci had filled that craving he'd had to talk to people on his own


Al had been kept waiting in the foyer of the base counselor for more

time than his limited patience could hold out. By the time he was allowed

to enter his office his nerves and senses were on edge. Something was up,

he could tell. The doctor, Captain Burch, was too polite, making small

talk about anything but what the ex-POW had come there for.

"Where is she?" Al leaned over Burch's desk. The doctor had one of

those infuriating, non-emotional expressions on his face. "I've been

getting the ****ing runaround from you people for two months. My own people,

my Navy family," he said, not hiding the sarcasm in his voice. "I want my

wife. If she's dead, damn I can take it. I want to see her grave. If

she's alive I want to know what's keeping her from being here with me."

A tightness formed around the professional's face. Captain Calavicci, as

obnoxious, and loud as he was, had given up five years of his life for his

service. He deserved better than what he had to tell him. "Your wife

isn't dead. Please sit down, and we'll talk about her status."

"Status." Al slumped in the chair indicated, practically ripping a

cigar from the shirt pocket of his rumpled uniform. "All right," he said,

lighting it. "I'm listening."

Burch steepled his fingers in front of his lips, looking directly at

the man in front of him. "Mrs. Calavicci left you a note, and it was


"Note? What note?" Al snapped.

"As I was explaining, your wife left you a note, which I have in my

possession. Apparently, she saw your photo in Life magazine while you

were being held in Viet Nam. Several months before it was printed she

initiated proceedings, quite legally, to declare you absentia so she could


"Absentia." Al felt everything in him crumble. "A nice word for

'dead', right, Doc?"

"The psychiatrist who treated you at Balboa when you were first

repatriated thought it prudent that the information be held from you until

you had recovered enough, physically and mentally, to handle the news."

It took Al a moment to compose himself and check the scream that

threatened to tear his throat apart. With a voice as dead as his soul, he

asked, "Where is she?"

"Mrs. Calavicci asked that the information of her whereabouts not be

revealed to you, for the time being. She is remarried and wants to save

you both further grief." He offered the man a sealed envelope and a

sympathetic look.

Al took both numbly, and pocketed the letter without reading it.

"Thank you," he whispered, standing to leave.

"Of course, you are due in Texas in 48 hours, but under the

circumstances they are willing to allow you an additional three days leave.

I've very sorry, Captain."

Without another word, Al left the room. In a daze, he went through

the halls, out the entrance, and to his car. He felt as if he were dead, and

no one had bothered to tell him. The same questions he'd asked himself for

years came back to haunt him.

Mom, you left us. Was I the reason? What did I do?

Dad, I didn't pray hard enough. It's my fault things turned out the

way they did.

Trudy, you had no idea I'd come back to you. If I had been there

sooner, you would have lived.

And now, Beth. Those months in that stinking jungle, his only thoughts

of her, and the home they'd make when he came back. For fie years,

eating a bowl of rice a day, tortured, sick, burning with fevers, only

thinking of her, and a life together. Pressing his forehead to the top of

the steering wheel, he remember other, darker thoughts. The ones he'd

dismiss, rejecting them as something 'she'd never do'. What if someone

more attractive, more stable, came into her life while he was gone? Five

years is a long time to wait for a man believed dead. Wasn't that what

Charlie had said -that he was a dead man to his wife? Hot tears ran

unchecked down his face, his sobs soundless. A dead man, with no home,

no one to love. No reason to live.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Sam disentangled himself from the blankets and caught the phone on

the fourth annoying noise. "What?" he snarled, assuming it was the



Frowning, Sam unsnarled the phone cord from his body, switching the

receiver to the other ear. "Al, is that you?"

"Yeah." The voice on the other end held none of the devil-may-care

attitude of the man he'd spent the night talking with. "This was a


"Where are you?" Sam felt his heart go into his throat. Something

did go wrong, probably with his wife. "I'll come and get you?"

"Can't . . ."

Sam could barely hear the word or the sentence that trailed off into

nothing. Al sounded drunk, disorientated. Clutching the receiver with

both hands, he found he was shaking. "Listen, Al. Tell me where you are?

I care. What happened?"

There was silence for such a long time that Sam thought that Al had

hung up. "I blew it, Sam," he said finally. "Don't worry about me, kid."

Sam had heard that tone of voice before, in the voices of the men at

Bethesda who had tried to kill themselves. As pathetic, uncaring. "Damn

it, Al." Sam sharpened his words. "Can you come here? I want to see


"Look, kid." There was a touch of desperation in Al's voice, as if he

were trying to hide something. "I'll just louse up your life, too."

"You wouldn't have called me if you didn't need me. And I'm here.

Please . . ."

The dial tone cut off any more words Sam could say. Slumping onto the

bed, he held the dead receiver in his lap, shutting his eyes tight. He had a

strong belief in God, or whoever held this world together, and that

everything had a reason. Even the deaths of the people he loved. Not Al,

though, not him. He'd known him less than twenty-four hours and already

knew that he was a fighter. If he'd received bad news from the Navy about

Beth, it would crush him, but not break him.

to be continued...
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